Chattanooga's progress on the road to sustainability, healthier lifestyles sand greener, cleaner, fun ways to boost urban transportation efficiency and reduce pollution and congestion, is set to take a novel leap. It will begin, in about two months, with the delivery of 300 "bike-share" bicycles, which initially will be stationed at 30 rental kiosks around downtown, from Main Street to the North Shore, the west side to the eastern boundary of UTC's campus.
With the start-up, Chattanooga will be among the first Southern cities to join the rising league of major cities around the United States and abroad that have launched large Bike-Share programs, and seen them soar in popularity for their convenience and myriad personal and public benefits.
In well-established systems, thousands to hundreds of thousands of people -- residents, urban commuters, office workers and tourists -- now routinely hop on their cities' popular rental bikes to run errands, tour the city, grab lunch, meet friends, or park their cars on the edge of town and ride "the last mile" on bikes to work, or wherever they're going.
The system's operations are simple. Riders here will be able to buy a cost-efficient yearly membership for $75, or purchase short-term use of the bicycles for a day ($6 for 24 hours), or for a few days for a few bucks more. Employers that want to encourage healthier lifestyles will be able to sponsor employee subscriptions or short-term bicycle use for employees at reduced prices.
Riders who fail to return their bicycles, of course, would face a penalty: the cost of the bicycles would be charged to their credit card. The program's leading international vendor, Alta, will maintain the system and computer tracking to assure an even distribution of bicycles at each station.
The benefits of the program should be substantial, especially if its popularity rises at the level experienced by cities from Boston to Washington, D.C., Minneapolis to Melbourne, Australia. Paris, where Bike-Share has logged some 54 million bicycle trips in the past 2 years, is the leader.
Cities and the general public will benefit from reductions in vehicular congestion, demand for parking spaces, cleaner air and enhanced quality of urban life. Riders will reap the health and psychic benefits of exercise, reduced vehicle costs, and more convenient access to urban destinations. They and their employers also will share the benefits of reduced health-care expenditures.
Chattanooga's entry into the Bike-Share program under the city's Outdoor Chattanooga department is being kick-started with a federal-to-state Department of Transportation of $2 million grant to establish the Bike-Share infrastructure of self-pay kiosks and solar-powered, locking bicycle racks. Grants totaling $350,000 from the Benwood, Lyndhurst and McKenzie foundations are being used to purchase the sturdy, seven-gear bicycles.
Phil Pugliese, bicycle coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga, emphasizes the usefulness of the Bike-Share program in terms of what advocates call "the complete street." It's a meaningful concept. It underscores the use of public space and streets, and society's massive investment in these resources, for the larger range of citizens, activities and amenities that animate a thriving downtown.
Pugliese has reasonable hopes that corporate sponsors of the Bike-Share kiosks and advertisers' use of the advertising space on the "Chattanooga Blue" Bike-Share bicycles will help the program grow. Support by the city would boost that prospect. Given the multiple benefits, it could make an important difference in the character and vitality of downtown in coming years.